Gladiator (2000)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #38

The general who became a slave.
The slave who became a gladiator.
The gladiator who defied an empire.

Country: USA & UK
Language: English
Runtime: 155 minutes | 171 minutes (extended edition)
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 4th May 2000 (Australia)
US Release: 5th May 2000
UK Release: 12th May 2000
First Seen: DVD, c.2001

Stars
Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential, A Beautiful Mind)
Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Her)
Connie Nielsen (The Devil’s Advocate, One Hour Photo)
Oliver Reed (Women in Love, The Three Musketeers)
Richard Harris (This Sporting Life, Unforgiven)

Director
Ridley Scott (Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus: Gods and Kings)

Screenwriters
David Franzoni (Amistad, King Arthur)
John Logan (The Aviator, Skyfall)
William Nicolson (Shadowlands, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Story by
David Franzoni (Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Citizen Cohn)

The Story
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius believes his son and heir, Commodus, is unfit to rule, so plans to appoint victorious General Maximus Decimus Meridius as regent. Before he can, Commodus murders Marcus and orders Maximus’ execution. Maximus escapes, but returns home to find Commodus has had his wife and son murdered. Captured by slavers, Maximus becomes a gladiator, and when Commodus announces gladiatorial games to commemorate his father, he spots a chance for revenge…

Our Hero
Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the old emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, becomes a gladiator, will have his vengeance against the new emperor, in this life or the next.

Our Villain
Said new emperor, Commodus. Murders his father because Marcus favours Maximus. Fancies his sister. That kinda guy.

Best Supporting Character
Even if his performance is partially computer generated (more on that later), Oliver Reed still stands out as Proximo, the slave owner who buys Maximus and turns him into a gladiator. For a fella who does that kind of thing, he turns out to be very honourable.

Memorable Quote
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” — Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor Marcus Aurelius; father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife.

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?” — Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the— yeah, you know the rest.

Memorable Scene
After Maximus secures a surprise victory in the Colosseum, Commodus enters the arena to congratulate the victor. Maximus reveals himself (cue famous speech), but holds back on his plan to murder the Emperor. As the Praetorian Guard prepare to execute Maximus, the crowd chant: “live!” Not prepared to risk unpopularity, Commodus spares him… for now.

Truly Special Effect
Oliver Reed died halfway through filming, with his key supporting role only partially complete. Famously, his performance was completed with computers, one of the first times such a thing had been done. Effects company The Mill created the additional footage by filming a body double and then mapping on a computer-generated mask of Reed’s face. The work totalled two minutes of screentime, at an estimated cost of $3.2 million.

Making of
When the HBO/BBC TV series Rome started, I read an interview with the programme’s historical advisor, who’d performed the same role for Gladiator. Asked to compare the experience of working on a major Hollywood movie versus a BBC-produced TV series, she cited the way the makers asked for information about something they wanted to include: on TV they’d ask, “did this exist?”; on Gladiator they’d say, “find us proof this existed.”

Next time…
A prequel or sequel was discussed ever since the film was a hit. The best/worst idea came from a re-write by Nick Cave (yes, that one) in which Maximus was “reincarnated by the Roman gods and returned to Rome to defend Christians against persecution; then transported to other important periods in history, including World War II, the Vietnam War, and finally being a general in the modern-day Pentagon.” As awesome as that sounds, it was rejected for “being too far-fetched, and not in keeping with the spirit and theme of the original”. Spoilsports.

Awards
5 Oscars (Picture, Actor (Russell Crowe), Costume Design, Sound, Visual Effects)
7 Oscar nominations (Supporting Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Score, Art Direction-Set Decoration)
5 BAFTAs (Film, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Audience Award)
10 BAFTA nominations (Actor (Russell Crowe), Supporting Actor (both Joaquin Phoenix and Oliver Reed), Director, Original Screenplay, Music, Costume Design, Sound, Visual Effects, Make Up/Hair)
2 World Stunt Awards (Best Fight, Best Work with an Animal)
1 MTV Movie Award (Best Movie)
5 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including Best Line from a Movie for “It vexes me, I am terribly vexed!”)

What the Critics Said
“There isn’t much difference between the crowds cheering Maximus and fans of modern mayhem entertainment. Money is the root of all violent exploitation then and now. One of Maximus’ endearing qualities is the way he resents the attention. It’s insane to view these fights as fun. We like him enough to agree, then realize we’re gawkers, too. Scott plays cagey with this paradox, as if to say: If you want to be a ghoul, do it right. Mano a mano, with much more than profit in the balance. Viewers shouldn’t feel guilty watching Gladiator, but its impatience with trash-sports showmanship is unmistakable.” — Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times

Score: 76%

What the Public Say
“As far as elements of technical filmmaking go, Gladiator is nothing short of a marvel. Production design team does a magnificent job in putting up set pieces that are grand, imposing & meticulously refined with the real standout being the Colosseum itself which is undeniably a sight to behold. The culture, politics & life within the Roman Empire is illustrated in splendid detail. Costumes, artefacts & other props are in sync with the timeline its story is set in but it also incorporates a slightly urban touch to it that brings a flavour of its own into the picture and enhances the look & feel of the whole imagery.” — CinemaClown @ Letterboxd

Verdict

Gladiator’s influence is plain to see: it was hailed at the time for reviving the classic swords-and-sandals epic — and indeed it did, because in its wake we’ve had so many that my original plan to list them here became untenable. The ‘original’ is still the best, though, thanks to director Ridley Scott’s feel for the epic, Russell Crowe’s strong hero, Joaquin Phoenix’s slimily unstable villain, and a mix of a straight revenge tale with familial/political plotting and the importance of public relations, thumping action sequences, and groundbreaking special effects.

#39 will make you… an offer you can’t refuse.

Roman Holiday (1953)

2011 #21
William Wyler | 113 mins | TV | U

Roman HolidayRoman Holiday is the kind of film where its list of achievements don’t quite precede it — Best Picture nominee (it lost to From Here to Eternity), places on the IMDb Top 250, They Shoot Pictures’ 1000 Greatest and one of the AFI’s 100 Years lists — but something else certainly does: this is the film that made Audrey Hepburn a star.

So let’s start with Hepburn. Here she plays a European Princess on a world tour, for various diplomatic reasons, which is coming to an end in Rome. She’s not happy, running off to see the real Rome, and sending her entourage into a quandary as they try to cover up her disappearance. It’s a role that could easily be intensely irritating — the spoilt little brat who doesn’t know how good she has it / with no sense of responsibility — but Hepburn seems to be effortlessly likeable, and it’s easy to sympathise with the idea that seeing the sights and having fun in an iconic city is a lot better than meeting a bunch of stuffy old men.

Through various contrivances, the Princess winds up in the flat of journalist Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck. He initially doesn’t realise who she is; he’s helping her out by giving her a bed for the night — the fact he’s Fundamentally Kind will become important in a bit. The next day, when he sleeps in and misses his scheduled interview with the Princess, he twigs who she is and sets about a plan to secretly get a world-exclusive, roping in photographer friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) to get candid shots of Princess and ice creamthe Princess as they take her on a day messing about in Rome.

So, essentially, Joe is conning her. He doesn’t let on that he knows the truth, keeping up the act that he thinks she’s a school runaway after a good time; he tricks her into it so he can get a story that will undoubtedly bring some degree of shame, shock and/or scandal to her family and/or country. His moral underhandedness occasionally undercuts the movie: they seem to be allowing her to finally do the things she wants to do, but all along he’s memorising quotes and Irving is secretly snapping away. It all works out in the end — realistically, and therefore, perhaps, surprisingly — but on the way there…

On the other hand — and without wishing to give too much away — morals do get the better of Joe and Irving, and they do often seem quite genuine in the way they help the Princess do what she wants, and they have a good time too (and not because they stand to be rolling in it if they pull it off); and, naturally, Joe ends up in love with the Princess and all that, and it does all work out in the end… It’s a matter of interpretation, perhaps. If you choose to focus on Joe’s ultimate aim — selling the story — then most of the film is a nasty trick. Princess and (Eddie) AlbertIf, instead, you remember that he’s Fundamentally Kind, it might be less troubling that he has a secret plan most of the time.

Morals aside, the cast work well together. The film is often painted as a Peck/Hepburn two-hander — easier to sell the romance angle that way — and I’m sure it would work as that, but Albert’s in it enough to qualify for attention, and is fairly essential to what makes it quite so likeable in my opinion. He and Peck carry much of the humour while Hepburn charms as a sweet girl finally allowed to be herself.

The bulk of the narrative is structured as a series of set pieces and individual sequences/moments, taking the cast from situation to situation: her scooter riding, cafe foolery, barge dancing/fight, and so on. In some ways, it’s just taking the audience along with them — there’s the Princess’ entourage trying to recover her and Joe formulating his story, but it’s more about the fun the characters are having doing whatever than the way it contributes to either of these plots. Wyler puts the genuine Rome locations to good use — and when you’re the first Hollywood film to be shot entirely in Italy, why wouldn’t you? It’s a cliché I know, but the city is as much a character as any of the cast.
Princess and stuffy old man
In spite of some characters’ moral underhandedness, Roman Holiday emerges as a very likeable film about, essentially, having a lovely time on holiday somewhere nice. Hepburn may not be as obviously iconic here as she would become thanks to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I think it’s clear to see how she would become a beloved star.

5 out of 5

Roman Holiday is on More4 today, Thursday 23rd April 2015, at 10:50am.